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(Post)socialist Threads: Garment Production and Women's Labour during and after Yugoslavia

Künstlerisches Lehramt
Ort, Adresse (1)
Karl-Schweighofer-Gasse 3
Ort, PLZ und/oder Ort (1)
1070 Wien
Ort, Raum (1)

Lecture by Chiara Bonfiglioli (IWM Vienna / University of Pula) with a response by Vida Bakondy (Wien Museum / Migration Sammeln)

Women's emancipation through productive labour was a key tenet of socialist politics in post-World War II Yugoslavia. Mass industrialisation led many young women to join traditionally “feminised” sectors, such as textile production. Textile and garment production thrived in late socialism, when the sector covered approximately 12% of total manufacturing. Local fashion brands such as Varteks, Beko, and many others competed on the internal market, simultaneously exporting their production worldwide. In order to balance productivity with socialist values, garment factories also established a wide array of welfare entitlements for their workers (i.e. canteens, health clinics, holiday resorts, subsidised housing, maternity leaves and part-time arrangements for working mothers).

This came to an end after the break-up of Yugoslavia, when processes of privatisation and deindustrialisation, together with global changes in garment production, deeply affected the textile sector. Over 300.000 jobs were lost in the industry, while textile work in new private companies, mainly subcontractors for major Western brands, became increasingly exploitative and precarious. In the lecture, Chiara Bonfiglioli retraces the gendered history of textile work in the post-Yugoslav region, with a focus on female workers’ experiences of socialism and post-socialism.

Drawing on more than 60 oral history interviews, as well as on official reports, factory newspapers, fashion magazines and visual material, the lecture explores the specific gendered “structure of feeling” (Williams 1978; Byrne 2002; High 2013; Strangleman 2016) developed by textile workers during socialist industrialisation, and the ways in which it lingers on after deindustrialisation. Bonfiglioli argues, notably, that textile workers’ post-socialist nostalgia for socialist welfare is largely shaped by factors such as gender, class and generation, and is widely shared across ethnic and national borders. Memories of past welfare entitlements are often mobilised as a way to resist the current devaluation of industrial labour and the rising social inequalities that characterise contemporary post-Yugoslav states.

Chiara Bonfiglioli
Historian and researcher, currently EURIAS Visiting Fellow at the Institute for Human Sciences (IWM) in Vienna where she is writing a book titled Women and Industry in the Balkans: The Rise and Fall of the Yugoslav Textile Industry (I.B. Tauris, forthcoming). She holds a PhD in Gender Studies from Utrecht University and collaborates with the Centre for Cultural and Historical Research of Socialism (CKPIS) at the University of Pula.

Vida Bakondy
Historian, member of the curatorial team of the exhibition Gastarbajteri - 40 Years of Labour Migration, 2004, and head of research of the transnational research and exhibition project Viel Glück! Migration heute, 2008-2010, by the NGO Initiative Minderheiten. Bakondy holds a Phd in contemporary history from the University Vienna. She was cofounder of the migration collection initiative and currently is staff member at the Wienmuseum.

Chiara Bonfiglioli’s lecture and Vidas Bakondy’s response are part of the discourse of MS 11.1 and MS 11.2 Künstlerischer Unterricht in Fashion and Styles by Elke Gaugele (MS 11.1 Konzeption), Simonetta Ferfoglia and Heinrich Pichler (MS 11.2 Realisierung)